Friday, October 01, 2010

County Commissioner Holds Meeting On Herbicides and Cape Water

October blew in with warm gusty winds and pouring rain. Large drops ping off the air-conditioner in my office window as I write. Outside, the zinnias turn their heads skyward to receive this life-sustaining liquid, so long in coming, so vital to everything. Water from the skies seems appropriate today because I went down to Barnstable this morning to listen in on a meeting organized by County Commissioner Shelia Lyons regarding herbicidal spraying by the utility company, which is to start up again at the beginning of 2011 after a one-year moratorium. I journeyed down picturesque Route 6A with my friend Beverly, who shares my determination that Cape water not be polluted by a mixture of five toxic chemicals. Not sure which of the buildings in the complex to try first, Beverly and I arrived a bit late.

The meeting was organizational. This mission statement had been drafted ahead of time: “Vegetation management on Cape Cod is undertaken by individual residents, local businesses, farmers, golf courses, utilities, corporations, non-profits and others. The impacts of some of these vegetation management practices on our drinking water and environment are not sufficiently understood. The mission of this Committee is to develop recommendations for short-term and long-range strategies to reduce or eliminate certain vegetation management practices, (including mechanical and chemical applications) that are not known to be safe for Cape Cod drinking water or the environment.”

I felt very positive about this meeting. For one thing, Sheila Lyons did a great job of guiding the discussion. For another, she allowed the public to listen and make comments at the end. Everyone at the table was, of course, given a chance to speak, including Rep. Sarah Peake, several representatives from the utility company, Green Cape, MA DAR, as well as a cranberry grower from Harwich and everyone's favorite organic landscaper, Laura Kelley. Unfortunately I missed the introductions, so I cannot share the names of everyone present or list all participants. Sheila made it clear that the object was to build consensus and move forward. A few random comments:

“What was the practice in the past, and how has it changed?”

“What can we do, as a region, to protect our water?”

“We need to lay out what we can and can’t accomplish.”

“Testing was done in clay soil, not on the Cape, and the Outer Cape has sandier soil. Do we have the ability to do data that is Cape-specific?”

Regarding a ban in place in Westchester County, NY: “Do we want to pursue that ability for the county and look at ourselves as a special place, looking at how we can best address this in a cost-effective way?”

Laura mentioned the Precautionary Principle, adopted this week by Sarasota County, in Florida, as a possible model for Barnstable County. “I was born and raised here,” she said. “I want to be able to continue to live here.”

One man commented that he does not use the computer and requested hard copies of everything, which solicited many surprised looks. He also asked to see the labels of all five herbicides at the next meeting, which will take place in two weeks.

“We want to know the total product to be used along the 150 miles and the starting date.”

“The research is 50 to 60 years old. There’s been no research done on this mixture. What about (in combination with) jet fuel and the pharmaceuticals?”

“We can ask the Cape Cod Commission to come forward with a specific testing plan. Three different soil samples and air conditions, from three sites.”

“I’ve got news for you: this will take years.”

And what did the utility company reps have to say? They spoke of "discrepancies on wellheads" and said that they do not have to spray every year. This is the first time I have heard this claim. Not every year is good. But never is better.

Towards the end, Beverly mentioned the President’s Cancer Panel, which has made recommendations on how to avoid environmental toxins and does an amazing job of explaining the risks. I didn’t write down her words because I was too busy waving Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, the panel's Annual Report, above my head ...